Published on August 18th, 2016 |
by Madison Young
MADISON YOUNG on Raising a Feminist: An Excerpt from THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SEX THROUGH PREGNANCY AND MOTHERHOOD
When I found out that I was pregnant, I knew I was birthing a revolution—a change deep inside myself that would alter my world forever. I knew that if I was going to be a parent, I would parent as a feminist. Parenting was political, the ultimate radical relationship. A foundational relationship of firsts.
As parents we are a child’s first experience in their developing and experiencing love and intimacy. We hold space and guide our little ones as they develop a relationship to their bodies and to the bodies close to them. With an emotional coach by their side they learn how to articulate and express their feelings, what they want and how to gift affection using their words. They learn the meaning of no and the importance of consent.
Until I was really in the thick of parenting I had no idea how all of these concepts and my feminist practices would come into play in the real world of parenting. But in the grand fashion of DIY—I am learning by doing, learning by connecting, by communicating, by listening and creating space for authentic expression of self.
Em is what you call a spirited child. Chock full of emotions and creative visions—I didn’t get the quiet chill Buddha baby—I got a unique child that challenges me in every way. A kid that came out kicking and screaming with a WE ARE HERE personality that doesn’t go unseen or unheard. I don’t think that I really could have expected anything less.
Here are some of the radical lessons I’ve learned along the way and some of the challenges and successes they have been met with in my adventures of raising a feminist.
I gave my child the name Emma, naming them after the radical feminist anarchist, Emma Goldman, whose fiery words had inspired me in my work as an artist and activist. By the time my child was two years old they were expressing a desire to identify as neither girl or boy. Their name shifted and changed from Emma to Emmerson to Em to Femme. Their gender and pronouns bounced from “he” to “she” to “they” ebbing and flowing as their vocabulary and expression of gender widened and became more complex.
This was not unusual for me. As a queer mama I made sure to have a full library of gender diverse books for Em. I mindfully avoided gendering the characters in fairy tales or the people around us. For example if we saw a person walking down the side walk I wouldn’t use their perceived gender to be an identifier but would reference someone like “Do you see that person across the street in the bright yellow rain coat? I wonder if they think it will rain.” I taught Em not to make assumptions about people’s pronouns or genders and to ask what someone’s preferred pronoun was.
I would check in with Em on a daily basis “Hey Darlin’ what’s your preferred name and pronoun today?” and Em would inform me of their choices and that was that.
Kids at the playground would ask, “Hey! Hey! Is that a boy or a girl?”
I would respond with, “You will have to ask them.”
“Hey! Hey! Are you a boy or a girl?” the kid would ask Em.
“I’m not a boy or a girl, I’m just a kid,” was generally Em’s response.
Sometimes the kids on the playground would be frustrated by this response. “Don’t they know if they are a boy or a girl? They can’t be both. They don’t get to choose!” were some of the responses that I’ve heard. But Em was choosing and letting us know and we listened.
“I wanna hug dolly. Em hug dolly.” Em demanded at one and a half.
“Ask the dolly if the dolly wants a hug,” I suggest.
“Dolly hug?” Em asks reaching out for dolly.
I pick up the dolly and respond, “I don’t feel like a hug, but I’d love a big kiss”.
“Big KISS!” Em claps her hands happy with the type of intimacy that her and dolly have negotiated.
Em is two and chasing a cat. I call Em over to me and have them sit on my lap.
“Em, do you think the cat wants touch right now?”
“I don’t know,” they mumble, looking at their shoes.
“What is the cat doing with its body?” I ask.
“Playing tag.” Em smiles.
“Cat’s can’t consent to touch with words, so we need to listen to their body language. If you present your hand when you’re still and calm with your body and the cat comes over and rubs up against your hand then it is saying yes to some gentle touch. If it runs away, it is saying, ‘Space please.’”
Em is four years old, “I want ticka bugs!”
“Ok. Here they come. Ticka bugs are coming!” I say as I tickle Em’s belly and ribs.
They roll around on their mattress laughing and wriggling under my touch. “Stop. Stop,” they say breathlessly, in a burst of laughter and my hands stop immediately and return to my own body.
“Stop means stop,” I say, reminding Em of our safe word.
“Whenever we say stop it’s always important to stop our bodies right away, right?” I confirm, making sure that I can see their eyes, so that I know Em is focused and listening.
“Right!” Em says, “Now go!” Em exclaims with robust enthusiasm.
I continue our tickling game and then Em asks, “Can I tickle you, Mama?”
“Yep. But only on my belly, not on my feet, ok?” I say, stating my desired tickle touch for our physical play.
“Ok Dude-a-rama!” Em yelps in excitement as they leap into tickling.
“Stop stop,” I laugh.
Em stops their hands. “Stop means stop.”
“Go!” I say and our physical display of affection and connection continues as we respect one another’s words and limits.
We go to a park, to the mall, at the market and a person that will be standing beside us, looks at Em and smiles, then pets Em’s head. There is nothing that Em despises more and every time it is met with a deep belly roar, a grumble and often followed with a loud voice screaming in whatever public space we are in, “I did not give CONSENT!”
We are currently working on gentler ways of communicating unwanted touch from strangers such as, “I don’t like it when you touch my head. Please stop.” But I do think that Em’s current response is closer to what their namesake Emma Goldman would belt out.
“Head, Shoulders, Uterus and Vulva, Uterus and Vulva,” my two year old and I sing as we identify those parts of our body. Growing up, I didn’t have a word for my genitals, my mother who works in the medical profession wouldn’t give my vulva or anus a name. My genitals were referred to as “down there” and “unmentionables” and your “you know what.” But the problem was I didn’t know what and it was really disempowering. This lack of knowledge fueled my tiny body with a lot of shame and fear around my body parts. My parents’ body shame reinforced a really unstable relationship with my own body. And it took years to reclaim and smash that stigma.
Much of that absence of foundational education fueled my career in sex education, and inspired me as an artist to further the conversation of body awareness. A primary goal of my artistic practice became to obliterate the stigma surrounding sex. In doing so, I believe we have the ability to advocate for a healthy relationship with our own bodies and in navigating healthy sexual relationships with others.
So how do I counter that as a Mom? Em receives the knowledge that they seek as a curious 4-year-old child. Em has names for their body parts and learns more about their own body as they continue to develop and ask more detailed questions and I provide age-appropriate answers.
We use language like vulva and anus to describe our anatomy and Em knows the ins and outs of menstruation. Em can answer questions like, What is menstruation? Why do some people menstruate? When do some people menstruate? What does menstrual blood look like? In fact I think Em knows more about menstruation than I did when I first started to menstruate when I was 12 years old. Em understands that every month my body releases an egg and the egg will journey from the ovaries to the fallopian tubes to the uterus and out the tiny hole of the cervix, where it comes out of the vagina along with some shedding of the walls of the uterus.
Em has a coloring book of vaginas and decorates diagram hand-outs of the uterus with purple glitter and water-color paints. We have animated puppet shows on the topic of body awareness with our plush toy egg, sperm, and our gender-queer vulva puppet—Val the Vulva.
We discuss what is healthy for our body and what isn’t healthy for our body—not what is right and what is wrong. We do talk about what is gentle and not gentle. We have frequent talks about the importance of consent, body agency and ways to communicate with others about the type of affection we would like to gift.
Em knows that no one has a right to touch any part of their body without consent. Although it is OK for Em to explore the touch of their own body and what feels good to them. But until both people are grown ups, it is inappropriate for any gifting or receiving of touch around mucous membranes. This includes kids sticking their fingers in each others’ noses or in someone else’s mouth. Em understands what our mucous membranes are, and gets that those are areas of our body that have bacteria that is unique to our body and that we don’t want to share that bacteria with others.
If Em chooses to explore touch of their mucous membrane areas in private areas like the bedroom or bathroom that is totally OK. We just ask for “privacy please,” and wash our hands afterward.
I keep a box of nitrile gloves by the bedside table and Em noticed these are the same type of gloves that Em has noticed at the doctors office as well as the dentist office. When asked why I had “doctor gloves” in the bedroom, I was able to explain that they acted as a barrier for bodies when entering a mucous membrane area. A few months later Em located a condom—still in the package—and inquired about it. I took a breath and was able to make what could have been an awkward situation totally normal and take the power and stigma out of a condom conversation. Because we already have had conversations about bodies, mucous membranes and barriers, I was able to explain that the condom is a barrier for mommy’s non-sharing vulva toys or a grown-up penis or a hand that might come in contact with a mucous membrane. Body knowledge is power.
Sharing the Mic:
As an artist, author and filmmaker, I travel and tour frequently for work and sometimes I’m able to include Em on those tours. It’s both an exhausting and rewarding experience to tour with my little one. There is not really any down time when you’re touring with a kid. When you’re not “working,” you’re “on” as a parent.
Em has been traveling internationally with me for tours since they were a baby so they adapt fairly well while on tour, which often involves new sitters, new foods, trains, planes, boats, and long days. It’s work and a lot of transitions for a kid.
Em knows when I’m working on my writing or an art exhibit and will say that they have work to do, too. Em will fill up multiple journals and sketch books with pen and ink drawings of how they see the world as we are traveling. When we came across an anarchist library, during a recent tour in Sydney, Australia, Em was eager to explore the library, as was I.
Em assertively went to the counter and shouted up toward a man, covered in tattoos and dressed in all black, who was staring at their computer, “ ’Scuse me! ’Scuse me!” Em shouted.
The gentleman looked down and found Em looking up at him. He was a bit surprised. “Yes?” he asked.
“Where’s your kids section?” Em asked.
“Hmm. We don’t have a kids section, but I have a few things you might like.” He brought a cardboard box down from a high shelf and Em’s eyes widened as they spotted a guitar.
Em plucked the guitar from the box and immediately jumped into the window seat in front of the store full of punks and anarchists. I smiled. It was my turn to sit back and let Em have the mic.
Em looked out at the small audience. “Would you like to hear something light or something dark?” Em asked them.
“Play some Slayer, kid!” a young teenager shouted with laughter.
Em looked up, shooting her a glare, and responded with, “I’ll just play something that is light and dark.”
I tapped the young lady on the shoulder and whispered with a smile “They only play originals.”
Em proceeded to play for a good 15 minutes, which is a pretty impressive set of original material for a four year old! I was thoroughly impressed.
Reprinted from The Ultimate Guide to Sex Through Pregnancy and Motherhood (Cleis Press).
From the publisher: In this guide, sex educator and filmmaker Madison Young satisfies the curiosity of any woman who has ever wanted to know how to negotiate sexual desires safely during pregnancy, learn how to embrace her inner pregnant sex goddess, and discover the ultimate sex positions for all stages of pregnancy. Improve your self-esteem and advocate for your own shifting sexual desires and fantasies within your relationship during pregnancy and beyond. In the pages of The Ultimate Guide to Sex Through Pregnancy and Motherhood, Madison illustrates and addresses these questions the only way she knows how – with the truth of her own experience as a mother, as a sexual adventurer, and as a sex educator.